Sylmar's Porfirio Cervantes tackles representation and accessibility in tennis - USTA Southern California
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Sylmar’s Porfirio Cervantes tackles representation and accessibility in tennis

Porfirio Cervantes had an unorthodox introduction to the sport of tennis. The current Assistant Director of Tennis at the Serve It Up Tennis Academy, was first suggested the sport by his high school tennis coach. While this in itself is normal, Porfirio’s athletic pursuits at that point were primarily in the sport of wrestling. Growing up in Sylmar, Porfirio took to wrestling as he thought it was a good outlet to channel his energy into, but Porfirio found that he wanted to get something more out of his athletic endeavors and was drawn to the mental side of the game of tennis. This switch from the mat to the court started him down the path of a successful career in tennis.

Porfirio does credit his wrestling background with giving him some advantages and unique traits as a tennis player. “In Sylmar, people didn’t really understand how great of a sport it was,” said Porfirio about wrestling. “From wrestling, we got work ethic. I had a lot of conditioning, but not really a lot of technique.” Porfirio explained that while it took him some time to get used to swinging a racquet, he had no problem working hard and tiring himself out again and again to achieve success in tennis eventually.

Picking up tennis so late, Porfirio was up against a lot of experienced players, many of whom had been playing junior tennis for years before he had even picked up a racquet. “I saw all this competition and players who had been playing since they were five or six years old,” recalls Porfirio. “At that moment, I knew it was a very big sport. It made me want to compete at that level. Obviously, since I started late in my career, I definitely needed to optimize my training.” Porfirio’s wrestling work ethic shines through here, and he was very quickly able to get to grips with the sport and compete against players who had been playing all their lives.

“Slowly, I really liked how timing and execution was very important,” said Porfirio. “I just kept at it until things started clicking. And I also had great friends that played tennis!” Like many young players, Porfirio found that alongside the competition and athletic challenge, camaraderie is just as important in the sport. Some of the main factors driving him forward in tennis were his teammates and coach. “My high school coach inspired me a lot more than I think he knows,” credited Porfirio. “I was a kid and didn’t really know what to do. He gave me my first racquet and took me under his wing as a mentor.” Eventually, Porfirio went on to study at UC Davis, all the while playing tennis through the UC Davis Tennis on Campus program.

As Porfirio’s experience in the sport grew, he continued to further appreciate the mental aspect of tennis, citing it as his favorite part of the game. “Tennis is a sport where you’re playing against someone else,” explained Porfirio. “But it is also you playing against yourself! An inner battle that’s going on where you want to execute what you’ve been executing at practice, but now there’s more pressure. That is something that I just haven’t been able to find in other sports as much.” This view of tennis as two constant battles going on at the same time, highlights Porfirio’s background in a combat sport, and how this has influenced his approach to tennis.

Porfirio’s journey in tennis led him to Serve It Up Tennis Academy based in the San Fernando Valley. Serve It Up is an important part of the Southern California Tennis fabric, catering to hundreds of children of all ages through affordable camps, clinics, and programming. Serve It Up provides both competitive and recreational tennis opportunities, with a specific emphasis on providing access to tennis for those who may not normally have the chance to play the sport. This ideal is important to Porfirio and aligns with his goals in tennis, saying “I really want to make tennis accessible to everyone. Tennis has a really high price to be good at it, so we bring in kids from a bunch of different backgrounds, and we give them all that they would need to perform at a very high level.”

Porfirio is keenly aware of the need to help a larger and more diverse community gain access to and excel in tennis. “I’m proud to be Hispanic come from a Hispanic household,”  he explained. “I know when we go out to tournaments, there really aren’t that many people of color out on the court. We need to make our presence known. Hispanic culture in particular instills strong community ties, to come back and give to your community that gave to you, so that every generation gets a little bit better.” Porfirio also is aware that Serve It Up’s mission is important because it also provides high level coaching resources, and not just introductory work, giving children of all backgrounds a place to start and fully develop in their tennis journey.

While he may not wrestle anymore, Porfirio’s relentless work ethic that he picked up from wrestling is clear in how he fights for his community and his mission in tennis. Porfirio worked hard to catch up to his peers as a high-schooler and through his coaches and teammates in Sylmar and at Davis, he has also developed a giving spirit that will be felt in Southern California for years to come.